Category Archive: Times of Israel

Historian: New evidence shows FDR’s bigotry derailed many Holocaust rescue plans

In his book about Franklin Roosevelt and the Holocaust, Rafael Medoff finds links between the US president’s anti-Japanese stances and his policies against Jews fleeing Hitler

President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers a 'fireside chat' from the White House. (public domain)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers a ‘fireside chat’ from the White House. (public domain)

Not only was US president Franklin Roosevelt perfunctory about rescuing Jews from the Nazis, but he obstructed rescue opportunities that would have cost him little or nothing, according to Holocaust historian Rafael Medoff.

FDR’s role in preventing the rescue of European Jewry is detailed in a new book called, “The Jews Should Keep Quiet: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and the Holocaust.”

Wrote Medoff, “Franklin Roosevelt took advantage of Wise’s adoration of his policies and leadership to manipulate Wise through flattery and intermittent access to the White House.” In return for visits to the White House and Roosevelt calling him by his first name, Wise undermined Jewish activists who demanded the administration let more Jewish refugees into the US.

According to Medoff, Roosevelt’s policies toward European Jews were motivated by sentiments similar to those that spurred him to intern 120,000 Japanese Americans in detention camps as potential spies.

“Roosevelt used almost identical language in recommending that the Jews and the Japanese be forcibly ‘spread thin’ around the country,” Medoff told The Times of Israel. “I was struck by the similarity between the language FDR used regarding the Japanese, and that which he used in private concerning Jews — that they can’t be trusted, they won’t ever become fully loyal Americans, they’ll try to dominate wherever they go.”

‘The Jews Should Keep Quiet,’ by Rafael Medoff

During the 1920s, when Roosevelt was already a seasoned politician and a vice presidential candidate, he expressed racist views in editorials and interviews. Regarding new immigrants — and Asians in particular — he bemoaned the creation of ethnic “colonies” in major cities.

“Our main trouble in the past has been that we have permitted the foreign elements to segregate in colonies,” Roosevelt told the Brooklyn Eagle daily newspaper in a 1920 interview. “They have crowded into one district and they have brought congestion and racial prejudices to our large cities.”

During these key years before Roosevelt entered the White House, he also wrote and spoke about “the mingling of white with Oriental blood” and preserving other forms of “racial purity.” According to Medoff, all of this was part of a long-held worldview that later guided Roosevelt during his three terms in office.

“Roosevelt’s unflattering statements about Jews consistently reflected one of several interrelated notions: that is was undesirable to have too many Jews in any single profession, institution, or geographic locale; that America was by nature, and should remain, an overwhelmingly white, Protestant country; and that Jews on the whole possessed certain innate and distasteful characteristics,” wrote Medoff.

During the 1920s, members of the KKK march in Washington, DC (Public domain)

Even as late in the war as 1944, when a Gallup poll found that the American public overwhelmingly approved of letting in an unlimited number of Jewish refugees, Roosevelt worked to make sure nothing of the sort took place.

“It wasn’t the public mood that set Roosevelt’s immigration policy; he could have quietly allowed the quotas to be filled without anybody knowing it,” said Medoff. “His harsh policy was a choice that he made, which emanated from his vision of what he thought America should look like.”

‘They’ll try to dominate wherever they go’

Last year, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum opened an exhibition called “Americans and the Holocaust.” In many ways, Medoff’s book challenges the premises of that installation, although the exhibition is not mentioned by the author.

According to Medoff, the USHMM exhibition “distorts and minimizes Roosevelt’s abandonment of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.” The president is depicted as having been virtually powerless to enact rescue efforts, despite overwhelming evidence the administration worked to torpedo rescue plans at nearly every opportunity, explained the author.

USHMM exhibition distorts and minimizes Roosevelt’s abandonment of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust

Historian Rafael Medoff

“[Roosevelt] would not have had to incur substantial political risks had he permitted immigration up to the limits set by US law, admitted refugees temporarily to a US territory, utilized empty Liberty ships to carry refugees, or authorized dropping bombs on Auschwitz or the railways from planes that were already flying over the camp and its environs,” wrote Medoff.

The Holocaust museum’s portrait of Roosevelt is particularly problematic, believes Medoff, because the president’s torpedoing of Jewish rescue efforts has been well-documented for several decades. Specifically, Medoff pointed to David Wyman’s seminal 1984 book, “The Abandonment of the Jews,” as well as research conducted by historians Henry Feingold and Monty Penkower.

“I’m told that the museum’s bookstore ordered only three copies [of Medoff’s new book, ‘The Jews Should Keep Quiet’],” said the author, who directs the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. “It would be interesting to compare that to the number of copies they have ordered of books that defend Roosevelt’s response to the Holocaust.”

Asked for a response to Medoff’s take on “Americans and the Holocaust,” USHMM communications director Andrew Hollinger said the exhibition “clearly” shows instance in which Roosevelt declined to save Jews from Hitler.

An image from the exhibition, ‘Americans and the Holocaust,’ running at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum through 2021 (courtesy)

“[Rescuing Jews] was not a priority for President Roosevelt or virtually anyone else in the government, which the exhibition lays out,” Hollinger told The Times of Israel. “The exhibition clearly shows President Roosevelt led the effort to prepare America to enter the war, but never made rescuing the victims of Nazism a priority.”

The installation, said Hollinger, asks a key question: “If Americans knew so much about Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews, why didn’t rescue become a priority?” The installation poses that question not only with regard to Roosevelt but to various sectors of the American public, said Hollinger.

“[FDR] condemned Kristallnacht but did not loosen immigration quotas despite pleas to do so,” said Hollinger. “His State Department took steps to prevent Jews and other refugees from entering the country… All of this is examined in the exhibition. I would encourage people to visit the exhibition in person or online to see it for themselves.”

‘Not to repeat the failure of their parents’

During the 1930s, Roosevelt maintained trade with Nazi Germany, and his administration even helped the Germans evade the boycott against German goods that many Americans were practicing.

As detailed by Medoff in “The Jews Should Keep Quiet,” products from Germany were permitted to enter the US with misleading labels that disguised the country of origin. This helped FDR undercut the boycott movement supported by Jewish leaders and millions of other Americans.

Even after the Kristallnacht pogrom in November of 1938, Roosevelt refused to criticize the leaders of Nazi Germany. His statement about the slaughter merely called the night’s events “unbelievable,” and he declined to name the victims or perpetrators. Indeed, FDR did not issue a single statement critical of the Nazis during the first five years of Hitler’s rule.

Synagogue in Hanover, Germany, set ablaze during the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9-10, 1938 (public domain)

In 1939, as the world went to war, Hitler broadcast his intentions to annihilate European Jewry. Simultaneously, FDR refused to support a bill that would have let 20,000 Jewish German adolescents into the US. Anne Frank and her sister Margot could have qualified to be included, since they were German citizens and under age 16, said Medoff.

Roosevelt’s determination to keep Jews away from America knew few limits, as probed in several chapters of Medoff’s book. Although it is well-known that Roosevelt turned away the St. Louis ship packed with German Jewish refugees, the president took other steps that have been omitted by most of his biographers.

For example, when the Dominican Republic made a public offer to take in 100,000 Jews on visas, the administration undermined the plan. From Roosevelt’s point of view, explained Medoff, that country was too close to home, and Jews deposited there would inevitably come to America. Officials in the US Virgin Islands, too, were willing to rescue Jews by letting them into the country, but Roosevelt halted the plan, wrote Medoff.

US president Franklin D. Roosevelt meets with the National Jewish Welfare Board — (left to right) Walter Rothschild, Chaplain Aryeh Lev, Barnett Brickner and Louis Kraft — at the White House on November 8, 1943 (public domain)

When asked what Jewish leaders in the US learned from those dark years, Medoff pointed to the community’s later activism for the Jewish state and Jews endangered behind the Iron Curtain.

“Where we can really see the impact of remorse over the Holocaust is in the rise of the Soviet Jewry protest movement and pro-Israel activism by American Jews,” said Medoff. “Many of the key figures in those efforts have said they were driven by a determination not to repeat the failure of their parents’ generation to speak out during the Shoah.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/historian-new-evidence-shows-fdrs-bigotry-derailed-many-holocaust-rescue-plans/

Men dressed as Jews hand out Holocaust denial fliers at Colorado mall

Group wearing yarmulkes and fringed prayer shawls distribute leaflets proclaiming that ‘Marxist Jews’ dominate academia and Jewish people run the porn industry

Pearl Street Mall, Boulder, Colorado. (Google Street View)

Pearl Street Mall, Boulder, Colorado. (Google Street View)

A group of men wearing large white yarmulkes and fringed prayer shawls handed out fliers promoting Holocaust denial and hung up cards bearing anti-Semitic canards on a pedestrian mall in Boulder, Colorado.

The fliers handed out at Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall by the men who appeared to be posing as Jews claimed the Holocaust was “impossible.”

The men livestreamed their actions, according to the report.

As of Sunday morning, no reports were filed with police about the fliers, Boulder police told the newspaper.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/men-dressed-as-jews-hand-out-holocaust-denial-fliers-at-colorado-mall/

German teens probed for anti-Semitic songs after visit to Nazi camp

Three 14-year-olds from Grunberg, in western Germany, under police investigation for incitement to hatred after singing along on ride home from Buchenwald

A view of the former Buchenwald concentration camp in Weimar, Germany, January 26, 2018. (Jens Schlueter/Getty Images/via JTA)

A view of the former Buchenwald concentration camp in Weimar, Germany, January 26, 2018. (Jens Schlueter/Getty Images/via JTA)

JTA — Three German teenagers are under investigation for allegedly playing anti-Semitic songs and singing along after a visit to the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp in the center of the country.

German police are investigating the three 14-year-olds from Grunberg, in western Germany, for incitement to hatred, the German news agency Deutsche Welle reported.

The teens played the songs on a smartphone on the school bus returning from the visit to the Nazi camp. The incident reportedly took place on October 15.

They were reported to police by officials at their high school, the Theo Koch School, which has won several awards for its work against racism, according to the report. Each year, the school’s ninth-grade students spend four months on a project dealing with Nazism.

The students could be expelled over the incident.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/german-teens-probed-for-anti-semitic-songs-after-visit-to-nazi-camp/

Ex-Nazi concentration camp guard, 93, tells German court ‘sorry for what he did’

Bruno Dey, a former SS private charged with 5,230 counts of accessory to murder, says he knew Jews were being gassed at Stutthof, ‘did not see himself in a position to free them’

93-year-old former SS guard Bruno Dey in the concentration camp Stutthof near Danzig in the regional court in Hamburg, Germany, October 17, 2019.  (Daniel Bockwoldt/dpa via AP)

93-year-old former SS guard Bruno Dey in the concentration camp Stutthof near Danzig in the regional court in Hamburg, Germany, October 17, 2019. (Daniel Bockwoldt/dpa via AP)

HAMBURG, Germany (AFP) — A former SS guard, 93, said he was sorry for his actions as he went on trial in Germany on Thursday for complicity in the murder of more than 5,000 people at a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

In what could be one of the last such cases of surviving Nazi guards, Bruno Dey stands accused of abetting the murder of 5,230 people when he worked at the Stutthof camp near what was then Danzig, now Gdansk in Poland.

While he insisted that he did not join the deadly operation voluntarily, he voiced regret for his actions.

“That’s what he said in his interrogation: He felt sorry for what he did,” said his lawyer Stefan Waterkamp.

“It was also clear to him that (the inmates) were not in there because they were criminals, but for anti-Semitic, racist and other reasons. He had compassion for them. But he did not see himself in a position to free them.”

Seated in a wheelchair, Dey wore a hat and sunglasses and hid his face behind a red folder as he entered the courtroom.

Waterkamp said his client was “ready to respond to all questions,” underlining that Dey “did not join the SS voluntarily. He did not seek to serve at the concentration camp.”

The main gate leading into the former Nazi German Stutthof concentration camp in Sztutowo, Poland, July 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Prosecutors said nevertheless that as an “SS guard at Stutthof concentration camp between August 1944 and April 1945, he is believed to have provided support to the gruesome killing of Jewish prisoners in particular.”

Although the trial comes late, Jewish groups underlined its importance in light of contemporary far-right anti-Semitic violence like last week’s deadly shooting in the eastern city of Halle.

“Why are you doing this trial today? Remember what happened in Halle last week,” said Efraim Zuroff of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center, in reference to the attack that included a synagogue among targets.

“Old age should not be a reason not to judge… He was part of the greatest tragedy in history, it was his will.”

‘Cog in the murder machine’

During Dey’s time at the camp, the “Final Solution” order to exterminate Jews was issued by the Nazi leadership, leading to the systematic killing of inmates in gas chambers, while others died of starvation or because they were denied medical care, prosecutors said.

Despite his advanced age, Dey is being tried by a juvenile court in Hamburg because he was 17 when he first worked at Stutthof.

According to German media, Dey, who now lives in Hamburg, became a baker after the war.

Gas chamber at Stutthof (Courtesy)

Married with two daughters, he supplemented his income by working as a truck driver, before later taking on a job in building maintenance.

The law finally caught up with him as a result of the legal precedent set when former guard John Demjanjuk was convicted in 2011 on the basis that he served as part of the Nazi killing machine at the Sobibor camp in occupied Poland.

Since then, Germany has been racing to put on trial surviving SS personnel on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused.

In the same vein, Dey is “accused of having contributed as a cog in the murder machine, in full knowledge of the circumstances, so that the order to kill could be carried out,” prosecutors said.

‘Speak up’

During pre-trial questioning, Dey said he ended up in the SS-Totenkopfsturmbahn (Death’s Head Battalion) that ran the camp only because of a heart condition that prevented him from being sent to the front, according to Tagesspiegel daily.

Dey also reportedly confirmed he knew of the camp’s gas chambers, where he saw SS prisoners being pushed inside.

He admitted seeing “emaciated figures, people who had suffered,” but insisted he was not guilty, according to the daily Die Welt.

Simon Wiesenthal Center's Efraim Zuroff. (Photo credit: JTA via Creative Commons)

Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Efraim Zuroff. (JTA via Creative Commons)

The Nazis set up the Stutthof camp in 1939, initially using it to detain Polish political prisoners.

But it ended up holding 110,000 detainees, including many Jews. Some 65,000 people perished in the camp.

Since the landmark Demjanjuk ruling, German courts have convicted Oskar Groening, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at the same camp, for complicity in mass murder.

Both men were found guilty at age 94 but died before they could be imprisoned.

In April, a German judge suspended the trial of a former Stutthof concentration camp guard after the 95-year-old defendant was hospitalized with heart and kidney problems.

German ‘Graffiti Grandma’ fined on Yom Kippur for painting over neo-Nazi slogans

Irmela Mensah-Schramm, who has spent 30 years removing racist slurs, to appeal $330 fine handed down on same day as Halle synagogue attack: ‘I did not do anything wrong’

 74-year-old German woman who has spent three decades painting over neo-Nazi graffiti was convicted of property damage and fined some $330 for painting hearts over graffiti which read “NS-Zone” (Nazi Zone) in the central German town of Eisenach.

The €300 fine was handed down to Irmela Mensah-Schramm last Wednesday, Yom Kippur, the same day that a neo-Nazi German gunman attempted to break into the synagogue at Halle, a two-hour drive away, and massacre the Jews inside, failed to do so, and shot dead two bystanders nearby. Mensah-Schramm was also ordered to pay court costs.

She was convicted on Wednesday of painting hearts over the “Nazi Zone” graffiti four times last December, after she was filmed by a local resident who filed a police complaint against her.

“I scratched off the first sticker in 1986, at a bus stop in front of my house,” Mensah-Schramm told the Associated Press when it profiled her in 2011. The sticker demanded “Freedom for Rudolf Hess” — Adolf Hitler’s deputy, who at the time was still alive and in prison in Berlin. “The sticker was there all day and I couldn’t understand why nobody else took it off — people can be so ignorant,” she said.

Since then, Mensah-Schramm has taken it on herself to clean away neo-Nazi propaganda scrawled by skinheads and other right-wing groups. She calls herself the “political cleaning lady of the nation” and says that she has scraped away tens of thousands of stickers.

She said seeing racist slurs sprayed on walls across the German capital with its atrocious Nazi past made her angry and she felt a personal responsibility to do something about them.

“Freedom of speech ends where hatred and racism begin,” Mensah-Schramm said.

Since her retirement in 2006, Mensah-Schramm, who worked helping students with special needs, has worked to track down and remove Nazi propaganda in the German capital Berlin and beyond.

Irmela Mensah-Schramm from Berlin painting over a swastika sign on a street in Berlin’s Schoeneweide district in 2011. For about the last 30 years Irmela Mensah-Schramm has walked through the streets of Berlin and other cities to paint over or remove paintings, stickers or slogans from neo-Nazis from walls, street lamps and other places. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Before she makes the racist slogans disappear, she documents everything, taking pictures of all the “evil stuff” she has found. She keeps several folders with hundreds of stickers demanding “foreigners get out,” “Jews into the oven” or “Sieg Heil” — the infamous salute used by the Nazis.

Some passers-by applaud Mensah-Schramm spontaneously when they see her grass-roots response to neo-Nazi graffiti, but others get upset.

While it is illegal in Germany to express Nazi ideology in words or images, police say it is not always legal to remove the graffiti either, because the process may deface or destroy other people’s property.

Skinhead groups have posted taunts about her online and several times property owners have reported her to the police. Until last week, she had never been punished for her actions.

“Neo-Nazis and private security personnel have harassed and bumped me more than once,” Mensah-Schramm said, adding that she has given up calling the police for support “because they rarely ever help me anyway and don’t remove racists slogans even if I tell them to do so.”

Irmela Mensah-Schramm pictured on a street in Berlin’s Schoeneweide district. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Mensah-Schramm, who is not Jewish, said that even though new stickers or graffiti often appear again soon after she’s removed them, she will never give up her work.

“I may be the craziest woman in all of Germany,” she said. “But the only way to get rid of those Nazis is to consistently work against them.”

Germany shooting latest indication of increasing anti-Semitism worldwide

Jewish leaders warn of growing and ‘lethal’ Jew hatred from the far-right and Islamic extremists

A memorial for the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. (Hane Grace Yagel via JTA)

A memorial for the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. (Hane Grace Yagel via JTA)

The shooting that left two dead and several injured in Halle, Germany, on Wednesday — when Jews celebrated Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for their faith — has shined a spotlight on the worldwide rise of anti-Semitic incidents.

The attack in Germany, where investigators are pursuing anti-Semitic motives after the assailant shot at the door of a synagogue in an attempt to gain entry, drew swift condemnation from United Nations Secretary General António Guterres and renewed calls from Jewish groups in the US to step up cooperation in combating anti-Semitism.

Harris added that Wednesday’s Yom Kippur attack in Halle, coming on the heels of the one-year anniversary of an anti-Semitic shooting that killed 11 worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, “should all be triggering alarm bells. The question is whether they are.”

An armed man on a street in Halle, Germany, following a shooting outside a synagogue in that city which killed two. (Screenshot/Andreas Splett/ATV-Studio Halle/AFP)

Robert Bank, President and CEO of American Jewish World Service, issued a statement calling on people “of every background around the world to combat the increasing waves of hatred and intolerance against all people, including anti-Semitic, racist, Islamophobic, misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic violence.”

A brief look at the state of global anti-Semitism:

United States and Canada

The Anti-Defamation League, which called the Germany shooting “heartbreaking” in a Wednesday statement, reported earlier this year that violent anti-Semitic episodes in the United States doubled in 2018. Wednesday’s holy day of Yom Kippur also saw an anti-Semitic incident reported in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement condemning what he called “the desecration of a Holocaust memorial” in the city of White Plains on the eve of the holiday.

In Canada, the government reported a 4% dip in anti-Semitic attacks last year — but only after a sharp rise in 2017.

Europe

Anti-Semitism is a top concern in Germany, where data shows reported, anti-Semitic incidents rose 10% last year, according to Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center, and where the trial of a group of alleged neo-Nazis for planning an attack in Berlin began last week. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government earlier this year affirmed its commitment to protecting Jews who wear skullcaps from anti-Semitic threats.

But beyond Germany, several other nations are grappling with spiking reports of anti-Semitic sentiment as well as behavior.

Josef Schuster, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, speaks during the ‘Berlin wears kippa’ event, with more than 2,000 Jews and non-Jews wearing the traditional skullcap to show solidarity with Jews on April 25, 2018 in Berlin after Germany was rocked by a series of anti-Semitic incidents.(AFP PHOTO / Tobias SCHWARZ)

In the United Kingdom, the Community Security Trust charity recently reported a 10% rise in anti-Semitic incidents during the first six months of this year. In the Czech Republic, the Federation of the Jewish Communities reported a rise in anti-Semitic incidents last year.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/germany-shooting-latest-indication-of-increasing-anti-semitism/

Wiesenthal Center warns synagogue attack precursor to Kristallnacht anniversary

Director criticizes slow police response to deadly shooting spree and urges Germany to step up security ahead of anniversary of Nazi pogrom

Schoolchildren and others brought to watch the burning of synagogue furnishings on Kristallnacht in Mosbach, Germany, November 1938 (courtesy)

Schoolchildren and others brought to watch the burning of synagogue furnishings on Kristallnacht in Mosbach, Germany, November 1938 (courtesy)

The Simon Wiesenthal Center on Wednesday warned German authorities that the deadly Yom Kippur shooting attack on a synagogue in the city of Halle could be a precursor to further attacks on the upcoming anniversary of Kristallnacht.

In a letter to German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, Shimon Samuels, the center’s director for international relations, noted that the Halle synagogue was one of those destroyed in the Nazi-instigated pogrom in Germany and Austria in which 91 Jews were killed, 30,000 Jews were arrested, 1,400 synagogues were set on fire, and countless homes and businesses were vandalized.

“It is known that both extreme right and Islamist terrorists often act to mark anniversaries,” he said. “If so, this may be a precursor to [the] Kristallnacht [anniversary].”

German synagogue attacker, identified as by media as neo-Nazi Stephan Balliet during his rampage in Halle (Screencapture)

At least two people were shot dead in the anti-Semitic attack Wednesday, with the gunman, identified by German media as neo-Nazi Stephan Balliet, 27,  filming the assault and posting a 35-minute video online.

After failing to blast his way into the synagogue, he shot dead a passerby in the street and then a man at a kebab shop, before being wounded and arrested by police.

“The delayed reaction by the authorities in an obvious case of anti-Semitic terror demands an official investigation,” Samuels wrote. “Next month’s Kristallnacht commemoration will require a maximum national alert.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the deadly shooting, adding an expression of “solidarity for all Jews on the holy day of Yom Kippur.” The chancellor later attended a vigil at Berlin’s main synagogue.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the “terrorist attack on the community in Halle in Germany on Yom Kippur is a new expression of anti-Semitism on the rise in Europe.”

“I urge German authorities to continue to act resolutely against the phenomenon of anti-Semitism,” Netanyahu tweeted.

Jewish community leader Max Privorotzki, who was in the Halle synagogue, told Stuttgarter Zeitung of the harrowing minutes as the religious site came under assault.

An armed man on a street in Halle, Germany, following a shooting outside a synagogue in that city which killed two. (Screenshot/Andreas Splett/ATV-Studio Halle/AFP)

“We saw through the camera of our synagogue that a heavily armed perpetrator wearing a steel helmet and rifle was trying to shoot open our door,” he said.

“The man looked like he was from the special forces. But our doors held firm,” Privorotzki said.

“We barricaded our doors from inside and waited for the police,” he said, adding that “in between, we carried on with our service.”

Between 70 and 80 people were in the synagogue on a day when Jews around the world were marking one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar, Privorotzki said.

Germany has been on high alert following several attacks in recent years, including some claimed by the Islamic State group, as well as neo-Nazi plots.

Aging Holocaust survivors hope to sue in US courts over Nazi-era insurance

Up to $25 billion could be at stake; survivors group optimistic that recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing may finally yield the legislation they need

In this, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 photo, Vera Karliner, right, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Aventura, Fla., along with her husband Herb, left, who was on the ship named the St. Louis that was full of Jewish refugees but was turned away from the U.S. in 1939. Aging Holocaust survivors are trying to recover insurance benefits that were never honored by Nazi-era companies, which could be worth billions of dollars. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

In this, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 photo, Vera Karliner, right, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Aventura, Fla., along with her husband Herb, left, who was on the ship named the St. Louis that was full of Jewish refugees but was turned away from the U.S. in 1939. Aging Holocaust survivors are trying to recover insurance benefits that were never honored by Nazi-era companies, which could be worth billions of dollars. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

AVENTURA, Florida (AP) — When David Schaecter was a child in Slovakia in the 1930s, he counted more than 100 people in his extended family. By the end of World War II, he alone survived. The rest had been killed in Nazi concentration camps or by roving SS death squads.

Schaecter lost not only his family, but all they owned, including life insurance covering his murdered relatives. And as time runs out on aging Holocaust survivors, some are trying to recover insurance policies that were not honored by Nazi-era companies, which could be worth at least $25 billion altogether in today’s dollars, according to the Holocaust Survivors’ Foundation USA.

For nearly two decades, the foundation members have tried and failed to gain access to US courts.

In this, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 photo, David Schaecter, president of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA (HSF), gestures as he speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Aventura, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

As another season of high holy days concludes for Jews with Yom Kippur on Wednesday, the Holocaust survivors group is optimistic that a recent hearing before the US Senate Judiciary Committee on the stolen insurance issue may lead to change.

“This is our last hope,” said David Mermelstein, also 90, who leads a Miami-Dade chapter of the group. “How can a Holocaust survivor be a second-class citizen under American law?”

The answer is complicated.

The Nazis under Adolf Hitler’s “final solution” killed an estimated 6 million Jews and others deemed undesirable by the German government, including gypsies, homosexuals and the disabled. It began slowly once Hitler rose to power, with Jews prevented from certain jobs and schools, and then the 1938 attack by Nazi gangs on Jewish homes, stores and synagogues known as Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass.”

Synagogue in Hanover, Germany, set ablaze during the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9-10, 1938 (public domain)

Since the war’s end, the German government has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in reparations to Holocaust survivors and other victims of the Third Reich. The International Commission on Holocaust Era Claims, formed in the 1990s with US backing, has paid out $305 million on these issues, plus $200 million in humanitarian aid.

Germany, and insurance companies such as Munich-based Allianz SE and Italy’s Assicurazioni Generali, say the commission’s actions should provide finality — “legal peace,” in the terminology of the deal — on the insurance claims.

They also say they will repay verifiable claims, but verification is difficult given the passage of time and the wartime destruction of so many records. The companies have demanded original paperwork, such as death certificates, that were simply not available after the war.

The insurers had close Nazi ties. A former Allianz chairman in 1933 became Hitler’s economics minister. The company today is one of the world’s largest insurers, and insists it will not shy away from the past.

“While we cannot undo any aspect of our company’s history, we can learn from it and work to make sure the horrors of the Holocaust are never again repeated,” Anja Rechenberg, Allianz’s corporate responsibility spokesperson, said in an email. “To this day, Allianz continues to pay any verifiably unsettled claims.”

One of several photographs taken during the deportation of Oswiecim’s Jews to death camps and ghettos in the region during the Nazi occupation of Poland. (Auschwitz Jewish Center)

Mermelstein recalls as a child his parents having a plaque in their house labeled “Generali”, the name of the Italian insurer with which they had a policy. He also recalls an insurance agent coming around to collect the premiums.

“Of course we have no documents for obvious reasons,” he said.

In this, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 photo, David Mermelstein, right, President of Miami-Dade Holocaust Survivors (and Vice President of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA (HSF), speaks during an interview with The Associated Press along with David Schaecter, rear, President of HSF, in Aventura, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Trieste-based Generali said it’s committed to paying claims whenever possible.

“Generali’s long-standing commitment to resolving claims of victims of the Holocaust and their heirs is well established and unequivocally remains in place today,” the company said in an email.

In Congress, bills have been filed over the years to allow American Holocaust survivors access to the US courts. None have passed, and other Jewish groups have opposed them. These groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee, have decided instead to support the claims arrangement created in the 1990s.

In addition to permitting lawsuits against insurance companies, many of the bills would have required the companies to disclose lists of policies held by Jews before World War II.

The survivors say given the efficiency and meticulous record-keeping of the Third Reich, it’s hard to believe such lists don’t exist.

“If you know German bureaucracy, there isn’t a ‘T’ that hasn’t been crossed. They kept a real strict record,’ said Vera Karliner, whose husband Herb was on the ship named the St. Louis that was full of Jewish refugees but was turned away from the US in 1939. Herb Karliner, now 93, survived the Holocaust.

‘Only Congress can provide the necessary remedy’

As the aging Holocaust survivors await congressional action on their long-ago stolen insurance policies, many are in frail health, in need of assistance for things like prescription drugs and medical needs. All of them say they simply want justice.

Their lawyer, Sam Dubbin, says it’s time for lawmakers to do something.

“Because the current law is a result of court decisions based on misleading and unprecedented executive branch positions, only Congress can provide the necessary remedy — legislation to require the companies to publish policy information and to provide a clear right of action for claimants in US courts,” Dubbin said.